In our nation’s federal election campaign, I normally look at all the major parties, and give them a chance to reason with me, although I (normally) vote the way I voted last time. This time, when looking over some news related to the Conservative Party, I saw that Harper wants to create an Office of Religious Freedom.
Now, most Canadian politicians don’t talk about religion all that much. Harper himself, although he is an evangelical fundamentalist Christian, who regularly attended the Calgary based Alliance Church, doesn’t talk about religion all that much either.
But because he is an evangelical Christian, it is almost certain that when Stephen Harper thinks of religious minorities, he is thinking only of other Christians. It’s likely that his party members are thinking the same way: for example, our Minister for Science and Technology is a creationist and doesn’t believe in evolution. And Conservative incumbent candidate Brad Trost openly boasted of cutting funds to Planned Parenthood and re-opening the abortion debate in this country. (To be fair, Harper claimed he wouldn’t touch the issue if elected; I have my doubts about that too, but I will leave them aside for now.)
Christian communities in countries like Pakistan, Iran, China, and so on, probably do have a very hard time of things. But Christians are clearly not the only persecuted religious minorities in the world. And I’m skeptical about whether they are persecuted any more or less than other groups.
But given the Christian fundamentalism that dwells in the Reform Party’s agenda (pardon me, the Conservative Party’s agenda), therefore you can bet that this office will almost certainly not be used to help voudouisants in Africa, Tibetan Buddhists in China, Jews in Palestine or Muslims in Israel, or for that matter any religion at all which is not Christian.
The only exceptions, the only non-Christian religions which this office might support in other countries, would be religious communities that are wealthy and well-organized enough in Canada to pressure the government to help their co-religionists in other countries. A lot will depend on a given community’s lobbying power. Scientologists might claim that they are being persecuted in Germany, for instance, and demand the office’s help, and they are wealthy and well organized enough to do much better than other groups. Aboriginal people, for instance, who might want the government to help protect indigenous people in Africa from being burned alive as witches, will probably get no hearing at all.
(In case you don’t believe that it’s happening, here’s a video. Not for the squeamish.)
This notion of Christian persecution is a very old story. Christ himself spoke of it: cf. John 15:20 and Matt 24:9, for example. The work of researcher Elizabeth Castelli charts the “persecution complex” (her words) of modern day American evangelicals. As she describes them, Christians seem to like the idea that the world is against them, even when their communities are large, organized, wealthy, and politically powerful. But I’m a little tired of hearing this persecution story. And I don’t like the way it might creep into our national political culture if Harper wins the election.
I think we may need to ask ourselves if we want our tax money spent that way, and (more to the point) whether we want religious fanatics running our country.
If you agree with me, please:
– Share this blog post with your friends,
– In the comments field, list a religious minority somewhere in the world which you think might genuinely benefit from Harper’s proposed office, but which you think is likely to be overlooked by that office.
– Ask your local Conservative candidate about his religious views.